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In Symphony, genius meets maestro

n April 30, the La Jolla Symphony embarks on a great adventure, presenting for the first time in nearly 16 years, Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 9.”

“This is a piece for Mahler lovers,” said Eric Bromberger of the La Jolla Symphony, “and is not played particularly often. It’s a rare chance to hear it and Mahler is one of those composers who sounds better in live performance than he does on disc.”

The great composer Mahler died in 1911 at the age of 51. One of the last of the great heirs to the German symphonic tradition, he was appointed conductor of many prestigious orchestras throughout Europe and completed nine symphonies in his lifetime, performing them all with the exception of “No. 9.” He died before he had the opportunity to perform his last work.

Mahler didn’t earn worldwide fame until some years after his death, though he was well known throughout Europe, having established himself as a driving force in the symphonic world.

“It took quite a while for Mahler to be accepted in the U.S., not until the 1940s, basically,” said past director of the La Jolla Symphony, Tom Nee. “When the Minneapolis Orchestra recorded the Mahler’s first symphony and sort of took the country by storm. Now, Mahler is sort of a specialty of most conductors, if they want to make a hit.”

Considered one of the high points of Mahler’s career, the ninth symphony is reflective of his tragic life, the death of his 4-year-old daughter two and a half years before it was written and the deaths of seven brothers and sisters.

“Mahler’s symphonies and, in particular, the ninth shed a lot of light on that sort of a journey,” said La Jolla Symphony Director Harvey Sollberger. “Mahler is someone who lived with great intensity. He suffered a great deal as a child and he had himself been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, so he knew he was not going to live much longer. ... For anyone who reflects on what it means to be alive and the significance of life and death, this is a piece of music that carries the same weight as a great novel of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy or Dickens. This is not light entertainment, but at the same time it speaks to us in a way that goes far beyond the level of superficiality of most of the entertainment that we have today.”

The La Jolla Symphony first performed Mahler’s ninth in 1992 under the direction of Tom Nee.

“We did a very good job on it. … I think everybody had a sense of triumph that we conquered this great piece with good